An Enduro pro takes on Cyclo-Cross
By Ryan Gardner
As bike riders it’s all too easy to get caught up in your chosen corner of the cycling world. We identify as downhillers, roadies, cross country racers, commuters, or trail riders. We buy specific clothes, and helmets, and accessories to fit our little niche, and generally we don’t stray too far.
As a recovering downhill racer and now self-identified endur-bro, I have been expanding my horizons little by little into the previously dark and actively avoided realms of skinny wheels and drop bars. With enduro becoming more and more popular, it seems everyone’s pace and fitness has been increasing yearly. Not to be outdone or left behind, I got myself a cross bike in an effort to gain those precious seconds that add up after every corner and eye crossing climb. For about a year I have been milling about the pavement, fire roads, and single track of the east bay and secretly enjoying the hell out of my Kona Major Jake.
However, the thought of racing a CX race never crossed my mind. Recently however, with some encouragement, I was persuaded to give it a try at the Central Coast Cyclo- Cross (CCCX) opener in Fort Ord, California. What awaited me as one of the toughest hours on my bike I have ever experienced.
First off, let me just say that riding bikes is inherently silly. We are a tribe of grown men and women who have realized that bombing around on two wheels is pretty much the most fun you can have. We drift corners, hop off curbs, and generally, act silly. If biking is inherently silly, then CX must wear the crown.
As a relative outsider, let me describe how I see CX. First you take a road bike, put slightly knobby tires on it, keep the drop bars, and then race it around on everything besides a road. This seems to include trails/fire roads/sand pits/mud bogs/pavement/stairs or whatever else happens to be available.
Oh yeah, then make sure you aren’t riding the whole time by putting in some barriers to run over. It’s silly. It also happens to be an absolute blast.
I lined up for my first race this past weekend with a few thoughts in my mind. What did I get myself into? If my friends see me wearing spandex, I’m never going to hear the end of it. I hope I don’t trip on those barriers…
These thoughts quickly changed into, holy crap are we going to pedal this fast the whole time? Holy crap you can ride road bikes fast down these hills! Seriously?! Seven more laps?!
And then, as quickly as it started it was over. After an hour of all out suffering I somehow managed to cross the line in 4th place and quickly found some shade to collapse on the ground, a mound of spent energy and lactic acid.
Five years ago I would never have considered myself a fan of road riding, CX or XC. With the rise of enduro racing, it has become incredibly clear that being only fit or only skilled is not enough to compete at a high level. Enduro is a form of racing that invites anyone from any corner of the cycling world to give it a try, but at the same time demands the top riders to be well versed in all aspects of riding and racing. I think it is that attribute that has played to its popularity and will continue to allow the sport to grow and gain participants. In the same vein, I think enduro (or mountain biking as some would call it) lends itself really well to cross training (or having fun on all kinds of bikes rather than just one). The mountain bike race season is winding down just in time to catch the CX bug. So get out there and try something new!
Ryan Gardner is a professional bike racer for Kona Bicycles and a sustainability consultant at Rincon Consultants in Oakland, CA. He splits his time between going as fast as possible on a bike and trying to make the world a greener more sustainable place to live. Follow him on Instagram @gofastgardner.
Spotlight on … Caro Gomez Villafañe
Born and raised in Patagonia Argentina, I never thought I would end up a professional cyclist until I moved to the U.S in 2005. I bought my first real bike, a Stumpy HT, and raced it at the NorCal High School Mountain Bike League. When I graduated I put the bike aside to focus on college, but in 2012 I found my way back to the sport. I chose CX because it’s “quick and dirty.” One moment the whistle blows, and the next you’re done and covered in mud! I soon started working with Chris McGovern (coach), and Trina and Edwin (team managers) who really took me under their wings. My first year I cracked the top 10 at a Pro race, and by 2014 was racing a full UCI schedule. It has been exciting but rough. Traveling Tuesday, getting to the race by Wednesday, spinning Thursday, pre-riding Friday, racing Saturday and Sunday, resting Monday and do it all over again for 5 months! Racing has taught me how to be efficient with time, and how to rest properly. After the World Championships in Tabor I was not only proud of my accomplishments, but it was extremely rewarding to have proven that a “pretty face” can be a tough cookie too. Currently I’m racing for Specialized/Muscle Milk, and excited for the season ahead!